British Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday (25 March) outlined plans for an immigration system that seeks to make it harder for immigrants to get access to social protection and housing.
At a speech in Ipswich, Cameron said that net migration to the UK needed to come down radically “from hundreds of thousands a year to just tens of thousands.”
The speech comes against the background of a campaign in the tabloid press warning that hordes of Bulgarians and Romanians would flock to the British Isles when restrictions on their nationals to work in Britain are lifted on 1 January 2014.
Bulgaria and Romania have denounced the campaign and the European Commission has said that there was no evidence whatsoever of ‘social tourism’ within the EU.
The Home Office has not produced forecasts of the number of Bulgarians and Romanians who could move to the UK after the lifting of the restrictions. According to some analysts, most of the nationals of these countries seeking employment abroad have already left.
The new measures
One of the new measures set out by Cameron includes cutting access to benefits for non-UK nationals after six months.
The current Home Office regulations for EU nationals state that someone who enters the UK in order to seek employment means they have a "right to reside" as a job seeker. This means they can claim Job Seekers Allowance and other benefits.
Cameron said that people cannot claim benefits indefinitely. He added that the government would create, starting in January 2014, a statutory presumption that after six months that EU nationals would no longer retain their status as job seekers and continue to claim benefits, unless they can demonstrate they have actively sought work throughout that period and have a genuine chance of finding work.
The daily Guardian reported that of the two million net migrants to the UK from the eight Central European countries that joined the EU in 2004, 13,000 people have claimed the job-seeker's allowance. This figure was not disputed by Downing Street.
Another new measure is strengthening the test people have to pass to see if they are eligible to claim income-related benefits – the Habitual Residence Test. There will be an increase in the number and stronger range and depth of questions asked, Cameron said.
Also, the government will require councils to introduce a local residency test in determining who should qualify for social housing. He said that this would mean someone would have to live in an area for 2 or 5 years before they could even go on the waiting list.
Among the other measure announced were making sure that the National Health System (NHS) can claim back money that is owed for treatment provided to those not entitled to it, toughening of penalties against those who employ illegal workers and landlords who provide housing to tenants who do not provide a proof of their right to reside in the UK.
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), an NGO, accused Cameron of increasing intolerance against foreigners.
The Guardian quoted Habib Rahman, chief executive of the JCWI, saying that Cameron’s rhetoric might curtail rights to benefits on a minor scale, but relatively few migrants compared with 'indigenous' people actually claim benefit anyway.
“The real effect of this speech will be to further increase the intolerance and the hostile reception that immigrants are facing from some sections of society,” Rahman said.
UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage said tougher immigration measures would do nothing to stem the flow of migrants from the EU. "This is all smoke and mirrors. The only way to stop mass immigration from EU states and prevent abuse of the British welfare system is to leave the EU," the MEP told the Daily Mail.